A month into spring training has yielded little in terms of newsworthy occurrences in Yankee camp.
The team announced it would not discuss or negotiate contract extensions for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, or manager Joe Girardi until after the season, which is consistent with recent club policy. Nick Johnson missed time with back stiffness (uh-oh), but then rejoined the lineup (phew!). Indications, per Girardi, are that Johnson will bat second and that speed isn’t important, since Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting behind him. That means Curtis Granderson, who Girardi hinted would be the team’s starting center fielder, will likely bat seventh or eighth, depending on Nick Swisher’s exploits. Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job.
That brings us to the first of three major subsections of this week’s column.
GARDY HAR HAR
In game threads during last year’s playoffs, I would post how I cringed when Brett Gardner appeared in a game. Since his arrival in spot duty in 2008, he has not proven to be a Major League caliber player. If there’s a place for him on this Yankee roster, it’s in a limited role, but what should that role be?
Michael Kay discussed the Gardner conundrum at length with Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand on Wednesday’s “New York Baseball Tonight” on 1050 ESPN Radio. Feinsand said that the Yankees view Gardner as a more valuable commodity coming off the bench in the late innings as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Kay pointed out how Gardner had no bunt base hits last season, which is a travesty for someone whose game is predicated on speed. You know what else was a travesty? His play in the postseason. Speed is fine, but there has to be intelligence to go with it. Gardner had a 33 percent success rate on steals and was picked off twice when inserted as a pinch-runner. A good base stealer has as much guile as speed. Your job as a pinch runner is to NOT get picked off. Gardner was so antsy that he made it easy for the opposition to read him. He was fortunate to have his teammates pick him up so often. His 0-for-10 performance in the World Series with 4 Ks didn’t inspire confidence, either.
I recall so many Pinstriped Bible columns that Steven Goldman would file on Tony Womack where he would lambaste Joe Torre for putting him in the lineup. “Automatic out” was a common phrase. There’s not much more time for Gardner to prove that he has enough dimension to be the weapon Joe Girardi wants him to be.
THE FIFTH STARTER “COMPETITION”
Before pitchers and catchers reported, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti — congratulations on your recent engagement, sir — and Ed Coleman interviewed Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland and asked him about the fifth starter spot. Eiland said at the time it would be an open competition between Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Meat Tray and Chad Gaudin. The first words that came to mind were “yeah, right.” The reins were off Joba, and Hughes, even though he would have an innings limit this year, was in line to see if he could reclaim the spot in the rotation he squandered a year ago. Operating under the , Murti and Coleman asked a hundred different ways to get Eiland to bite on whether there was a favorite, or a preference, and he wouldn’t.
So, a month later, here we are: Joba has posted a Chien-Ming Wang level ERA of 27.05 while allowing 8 hits and 6 walks in 3 2/3 innings. Worse, he’s shrugged it off like he’s making progress. Hughes hasn’t fared much better. While his ERA is significantly lower than Joba’s (3.85), he’s allowing nearly a hit per inning, and two of the four hits he’s allowed have been home runs. Aceves has pitched the best; he hasn’t allowed a base runner in 6 innings pitched.
If it’s an open competition, then Aceves is the runaway leader at this point, and both Eiland and Girardi should acknowledge as much. Their lack of candor has some writers and broadcasters believing that they’ve known all along who they’re selecting as the fifth starter, and this is all a sham. Feinsand insinuated as much when Kay asked him that very question on Wednesday. If the writers feel like they’re being bullshat, than what are we as fans supposed to think?
A-ROD AND THE SPIN DOCTOR
This section should be qualified by me saying that A-Rod, for all his talent and baseball acumen, does not come off as smart outside the lines. I recall when talking to reporters after the July 1, 2004 game against Boston, in which he moved to shortstop following Jeter’s face-first dive into the stands, he said the amount of ground he had to cover was “like the Miami Ocean.” I immediately looked at him quizzically, as if to say, “Are you effing serious with that quote?” He picked up on my facial contortion as I jotted down that nugget of idiocy, looked at me and gave his trademark smirk.
Is he smirking now? Personally, I don’t care if he was referred to Dr. Tony Galea and flew to Toronto to have the platelet procedure done. And honestly, I don’t care if A-Rod did HGH all of last year while recuperating from the hip surgery. It’s baffling to me, though, that he did this without Brian Cashman or anyone else in the organization finding out. Dr. Galea has said, according to numerous published reports, that he only prescribed anti-inflammatories to A-Rod. Let’s give both the benefit of the doubt and say that’s true. One question could flip this thing completely: Did A-Rod broke team procedure and see Galea without the team’s permission? Who’s covering up? A-Rod stands by his story that he’s OK and that he never took HGH from Galea. Cashman has adamantly stated he had no knowledge of A-Rod’s Canadian spin class. The longer A-Rod waits to talk to federal investigators, the more intense the speculation and conjecture will become.
Maybe this is all immaterial since he hit in the clutch during the playoffs and was integral to the World Series title. Maybe he should get a free pass from us. Or maybe not. If it’s determined A-Rod did break protocol, the Yankees can void his contract.
Now that would be newsworthy.